Made in Dagenham

Date 31st March 2022
Society Billericay Operatic Society
Venue Brentwood Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director Wayne Carpenter
Musical Director Max Harris
Choreographer Jane Granby

Report

Author: Zahna Hull

The show is based on the Woolley/Karlsen/Number9 motion picture of the same name. Set in Essex 1968, the show opens to a typical early morning scene, we meet working mum Rita O’Grady trying to get her kids off to school and her husband off to work before going to work herself. The events of this production took place so close to home and within living memory of many, so it was a very special performance because it tells a real story that affected the lives of us all.

Following misogynistic union company appraisals, the women sewing machinists not only find themselves downgraded but also classed as nonskilled in the newly negotiated pay deal structure. Hackles rise and tempers fray, turning on their union rep Monty, Trevor Lowman; for answers. The male dominated management and union talks plan on burying the complaints in a lengthy time-consuming ‘grievance procedure’.

Abigail Lowman as Rita absolutely shines in this role, visibly growing in determination and self-belief. From her “one of the girls” beginning, she’s taken under the wing of union convenor Connie, brought to life by Jane Granby. From her sewing job, to being the women’s leading voice, Rita takes them out on strike, initially over the down grading but as new information comes to light, equal pay becomes her goal for all the ladies in Ford UK.

Wayne Carpenter, plays Rita’s hapless husband Eddie; He is one of the boys, a loving husband, a father, and a product of his time; he does a great job of showing all of these facets. I really enjoyed the relationship between Rita and Eddie and appreciated the hard work it takes to make relationships believable on stage. The O’Grady children were played by Scarlett Hicks and Jake Parnaby, they both gave mature performances that were on point, and easily equal to any of the adult performers. (For three of the six performances, the roles of the children were played by Chloe Wilkinson and Billy Mears.)

The lively ribald factory humour, is provided by the potty mouth, force of nature that is Beryl, played brilliantly by Gail Carpenter whose sarcastic banter, particularly with absent minded Clare, Lindsay Oliver; was hilarious and well observed.

The Wilson Labour Government handling of the issue is parodied by Gerard Jones as Harold Wilson. He really was funny, despite being far too young to play the role, he gave the role energy and more than one Wilson accent. It was this humour made the difficult circumstance of the political climate more palatable. Deciding to fight fire with fire, Wilson calls upon the stalwart Barbara Castle, utterly embodied heart and soul by Fiona Whittaker; to pull the errant female strikers into line.

Matthew Carpenter played Mr Tooley, who we loved to hate as the American boss, out to make money for Ford. All the other supporting actors gave very strong and accurate performances, The ensemble numbers were joyful, every voice was heard and every harmony appreciated. Very well done to all.

The set was minimal but effective; scene changes were slick and every scene was believable. The music was perfect and the sound levels were good too. The choreography was clever, reflected the sixties era, and worked well in the space.

Costumes, make-up and hair were superb, reminiscent of childhood family gatherings and of news reports of the time. It was so good to see the Ford overalls adding to the authenticity of the piece.

I thoroughly enjoyed this show. I must commend everyone from director, to every performer, musician and crew. There were too many great performances to mention everyone by name and every single actor gave a joyful performance which left an uplifting feeling to the audience. We left with a smile and also with a grateful feeling because Rita O’Grady and her fellow workers paved the way for future generations of women to be regarded equally in the workplace.

Thanks Billericay Operatic Society for a fab and thought-provoking show.